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The Missing Fruits (Positive Anticipation)

I met Joan in the summer of 1982, when she was working as an intern at Public Service Indiana, and living catty-corner from me. Not realizing she was destined to marry me, she was dating someone else, an oversight we corrected just in time for me to be invited to her family’s Thanksgiving dinner, where I met all her family and was introduced to the gastronomic marvel that was the Ruby Apple Thanksgiving Dinner, one of every food known to humanity.

The extra leaf was added to the kitchen table, then piled high with food, so we ate at folding tables on the back porch. Ruby carried out the turkey, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. I started eating, thinking that was it, your basic Indiana Thanksgiving dinner. But Ruby kept bringing food out—macaroni and cheese, baked beans, cole slaw, yams, yeast rolls, and apple pie. I was 5’11”, weighed 115 pounds, and Ruby worried I was near death, so piled my plate high.

These past few months, we’ve been feasting on the fruits of the spirit Paul described in the book of Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. But those are just the basic dishes Paul carried to the table. There are other fruits he forgot to mention. If Paul had been a Hoosier farm wife, this would not have happened. He would have set all the fruits on the table, but because he didn’t, we must.

In the weeks ahead, I will be talking about the missing fruits, the virtues Paul should have mentioned, but didn’t, because he was a single man with no experience in meal preparation.

I won’t be bringing all the messages. Mark Strietlemeier texted me last week to mention an overlooked fruit, the all-too-familiar-“know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em” fruit, which I rightly interpreted as a sign from God that Mark should speak about, so he’ll be bringing one of the messages. There is always a risk in suggesting sermon ideas to your pastor. It might end up being your sermon.

Today, I want to talk about the fruit of positive anticipation. Positive anticipation: the ability to think of the future with excitement, confidence, and good cheer.  I don’t know about you, but I was raised on a steady diet of “saving for a rainy day.” When you are taught that, it is impossible to walk through life without seeing dark clouds gathering on every horizon. The storms are nearing, the thunder is crashing, the lightning is flashing, and one day it will strike you. Be ready for that day. Save for that day. Because you never know. All your life becomes a practice run for the inevitable catastrophe awaiting you. In motorcycling, we say, “Dress for the wreck.”  Dress for the wreck. You wear all this protective gear—the leather jacket, the full-face helmet, the Kevlar pants, the leather gloves, the tall, thick boots. That makes sense when riding motorcycles, but it’s a poor theme to live your life by.

It’s a poor theme to live our lives by, because we’re so busy watching out for the wreck, we can never enjoy the scenery. We know people like this. If we’re honest, we admit that maybe we’re like this ourselves. We have no sense of positive anticipation. Life is risky, life is menacing, life is dangerous. We stand in a flower garden and see only the withered blooms.

When our sons were babies, I would sit and watch them in their crib, imagining all the things that could go wrong with them—measles, diphtheria, the bubonic plague, tumors, the lurking genetic anomaly. When we dodged those bullets, I still worried. Incarceration, intoxication, social isolation. None of that happened to them, at least that I know of, but I was so consumed with their potential tragedies, I failed to enjoy their triumphs, their joys, their successes.  I saw only the clouds on the horizon and never the sun breaking through.

The religion I had been taught was of little help. I was told there would be a day of judgment, that the road to hell was wide, the gate to heaven narrow, that all have sinned and fallen short, the wages of sin were death, the wheat will be gathered, the chaff will be burned. This was drilled into me. A rainy day was coming. Then, surprisingly, amazingly, unbelievably, I was diagnosed with depression. Imagine my shock!  I was living my life dressed for the wreck, so forgot to enjoy the scenery.

This existential dread, this constant dressing for the wreck, is the antithesis of healthy spirituality. It tarnishes our relationships, dampens our enthusiasm, diminishes our love for life. The opposite of this is positive anticipation. We imagine the best things happening to us—life affirming relationships, healthy spirituality, political optimism, confidence in our collective human effort to better the world. Don’t you love being around people who exude those qualities?  And doesn’t it wear you out to be around people who never have a good word to say, a good thought to share, a good dream to live?  Doesn’t it just drag you down?

Biblical scholars tell us only one person wrote the book of Revelation, popularly attributed to a man named John around 90 AD during a time of intense persecution under the Emperor Domitian, who was, as Ruby Apple used to say, “mean as a snake.”  So John writes about positive anticipation to the church. He describes the defeat of evil and the victory of good. The letter reaches its climax in the 21st chapter with these words, “Than I saw a new heaven, and a new earth, a new Jerusalem…I heard a voice saying the dwelling of God is with us, that God will be with us, and we will be with God. God will wipe every tear from our eyes, and death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”  It’s right there in the Bible. Right at the end of perhaps the last book written, as if were the last lesson we needed to remember–sorrow, injustice, and evil have a shelf life. The rains stops falling. The sun breaks through. The table is full.